AND CHALLENGES CHANGE US
It is true we grow from meeting the challenge and many live for the adventure that accompanies change, but there are those who are quickly overwhelmed when their expectations are met with surprise. Even those who like to be astonished and live for daring excitements have their limits. All of us appreciate when our days are predictable and routine enough to support what we want.
Our thinking and our training have programmed us to deal with change by stopping the bleed, reducing the pain, and returning to the status quo. The presumption is, that the quicker one gets back to “normal,” the better. Many of us learned this at a very young age. We fell down and skinned our knees, and some adult said to us, “now, now, it is not that bad, stop crying.” Rather than truly being consoled, we stuffed our emotions and over the next few days, we saw the injury disappear. As far as anyone was concerned, it was as if nothing ever happened. To us, it seemed that the status quo or normal was restored. We now have our pattern for dealing with conflict, crisis, and change.
The problem is, that not all so-called skinned knees heal the same. While on the outside the scab is replaced with what appears to be new tissue, inside the wound remains open and vulnerable to further injury. Emotional wounds take longer to heal than physical ones.
Let us face the truth. We are not really talking about skinned knees or hurt feelings, are we?
For a large portion of the population, change really means loss; loss of security, loss of identity, loss of loved one, loss of career, loss of social connections, loss of health, or loss of dignity. The list can go on and on. When change means suffering a loss, the first question that arises is, “Why?” Soon, that question morphs into, “Who did this to me?”
Again, you and I have been conditioned by our culture to place the locus externally. Back when we skinned our knees and we were told to stop crying, that was not for our benefit. It was for the nearby adult. It is likely they saw us as the source of their agitation. They needed us to stop crying so they could feel better. After all, we were to blame for their dysregulation.
We have learned well from those adults, so well that now we are those adults. We point our finger, assign blame, and believe others are responsible for stopping our bleed, reducing our pain, and returning us to the way things were; or better yet, the way we want them to be. We have learned to play the victim card and there are so many role models to show us how to do it.
Playing the role of a victim is not the same as actually being a victim.
Just like playing a doctor does not make one a physician. Acting and believing the part of a victim means someone else is responsible for our future. The temptation for this idea is intoxicating because it creates a vacuum that sucks others into feeling sorry for us. We interpret their sympathies to be compassion and affirmations. Except, sympathy only exacerbates our deficits. This is deeply destructive.
The more we continue down this road the more we see ourselves and others as objects. Instead of living intentionally, we rely on our reactivity to carry the day. At times we are aggressive, at other times we are avoidant, or we might completely isolate and insulate from the world around us. We might be angry, charming, procrastinating, or moody, all in an attempt to satisfy our sense of injustice. Since we are abdicating responsibility, none of these behaviors sets us free from our fear of change. As Jonathan Sacks once stated, “Blaming others is the suicide of liberty.”
Fear externally imposed destroys safety, trust, and transparency.
In contrast, fear internally acknowledged is personally empowering. Shifting the locus from outside ourselves to inside demonstrates we are accepting responsibility for our experiences and exposures. This is not about accepting the blame for those who hurt us or neglected us, but accepting the responsibility for our future, responsibility for our growth and development. This is about building towards resiliency.
There is a story we find ourselves in and we did not write it, but clearly, we are the authors of the story that we tell ourselves, and the story that we publish. Instead of trying to predict the future, we need to design and write the one we believe ought to be.
Trauma and adversity…
…change a person. Sometimes we can stop the bleed and reduce the pain, and for many, it will take a while for that to be their reality. However, there is no returning to the status quo. Our experiences and exposures have changed us, permanently. The good news is that we can grow, improve, become more resilient, and be wiser. There is more than one way for you and me to be you and me. Instead, of finger-pointing, redirect your fingers to write a new narrative. If you do not like your present story, then rewrite it; start a new chapter.
As the ancient Sages announced, “Set before you is life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose, if you will, life – so that you and your children may live.”
The human spirit is powerful and its capacity to build toward resiliency is immense when one learns to glean wisdom from the weeds of the past and is intentional to reach for the highest vocation. As you and I see ourselves as responsible for our improvements, the flame that burns for hope is inextinguishable.
Dr. Roderick Logan is a Senior Faculty member and Director of Organizational Programs at the Arizona Trauma Institute. As well, he is Senior Faculty at the Trauma Institute International. He also provides consulting through his Making Space to Heal company.